The Connection Between Trauma and Bullying

September 22, 2023

Experiencing trauma can shift the way a person thinks, feels, and even behaves. If a student in your classroom has experienced trauma, one of the ways their behavior may shift could include various acts of bullying. In fact, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network found that 40.5% of girls and 27.6% of boys who bullied others had PTSD scores within clinical range. As an educator, you can help break the cycle of trauma and support student success by building your awareness of the connection between trauma and bullying.

After all, awareness is key to promoting successful, long-lasting change in the classroom. Author and Educator, Dr. Lori Desautels puts it this way, “Awareness is one of the most powerful tools we have as educators to manage trauma for ourselves and for our students. It allows us to break the cycle of trauma that makes us all feel less safe.” Today’s blog will explore the connection between trauma and bullying so you can best support students and create a classroom of healing and acceptance.

Understanding the Cycle of Trauma and Bullying

Students in the classroom today are dealing with increased stress, anxiety, and trauma. “The increase in the mental health load that students experienced during the pandemic has not gone away,” explained Jen Wilka, executive director of YouthTruth.

In a report from YouthTruth, researchers found that 50% of middle school students reported that stress, depression, and anxiety were their greatest obstacles to learning. For high school students, that number increased to 56%. Those percentages were even higher for LGBTQ+ students, reaching to 85%.

As an educator, you’ve seen the toll that this increase in trauma, stress, depression, and anxiety is having on your students, co-workers, and even yourself. But how can trauma lead to bullying?

bullying cycle

At CPI, we refer to any outside trauma or event as a Precipitating Factor. A Precipitating Factor is anything that is out of our control that can negatively impact our emotions and behavior.

By following the trauma and bullying cycle, we can see how a Precipitating Factor may lead to an incident of bullying. . .

Let’s say a student arrives at school only to learn that their group of friends intentionally didn’t invite them to a party again—this can be a Precipitating Factor and even an incident of bullying since it has happened before. This then leads the student to recall other moments they have felt left out. Increased feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety are followed by a decreased sense of belonging.

The student’s behavior may change to communicate they are feeling distressed. They may be quiet in class or even aggressive toward another student.

And if the student carries out an act of bullying against another student, it restarts the cycle for both the student being bullied and the bully.

With CPI’s trauma-informed de-escalation training, you can build your awareness of how trauma impacts the brain and body and learn how to spot when a student may be struggling with unaddressed trauma. In doing so, you can offer your students the appropriate level of care and support to help them begin to process what they have experienced and work toward healing.

How Early Intervention Supports Student Success

Intervening early to address bullying in the classroom helps you create an environment that doesn’t just stop bullying, it keeps it from even starting in the first place. It shows students that you have a zero-tolerance policy toward bullying and opens the door for students to feel comfortable coming to you for support.

By intervening early, you also demonstrate to students that you will actually do something about bullying.  And when you respond to a bullying incident with empathy and understanding it shows students that you care about their emotional and social well-being.

CPI training can help strengthen your trauma-informed skills so that you can intervene appropriately when you see an incident in the trauma and bullying cycle occur.

But intervening early doesn’t just support social and emotional well-being. It can also help students succeed academically. “I think that the conversation about learning loss and the academic side of learning is so loud, that we can sometimes lose sight...of the interconnectedness between emotional and mental health and students’ ability to learn academically,” shared Wilka. “It’s really impossible to do one without the other.”

With trauma-informed care practices established, you can help stop the cycle of bullying and give students the opportunity to succeed in the classroom and beyond.

How CPI Training Can Bring Trauma-Informed Training to Your School or District

With CPI’s trauma-informed training, your school or district can support student success. Here’s what a trauma-informed staff can do:

  • Support the emotional, social, and cognitive well-being of students and coworkers
  • Foster a learning environment of safety and connection for students
  • Understand the unique behaviors associated with trauma
  • Recognize and build upon the strengths and experiences of those impacted

CPI training can help make a positive impact in your school or district. Schedule a conversation with a CPI representative today to learn how CPI training can help you better support student well-being and success.

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